A member of the board of Kaslo’s community-owned internet service has a simple message for civic leaders struggling with how to deliver the ‘last mile’ of fibre-optic cable to homes and business in the Slocan Valley.
“It’s not rocket science,” says Tim Ryan of the Kaslo infoNet Society (KiN). “And they can do it themselves.”
Ryan should know what he’s talking about. Kaslo’s community-owned internet provider has brought high-speed fibre-optic cable to hundreds of customers, both in the village and in the small settlements of the RDCK’s Area D, in the last six years.
Ryan thinks the Regional District of Central Kootenay should take ownership of the backbone and assist local communities to manage the utility.
“The district here can and should do it. It’s no different from laying pipe, sewers, or roads,” he says. “The only problem is the vast majority of people here have never tangled with anything like this, they don’t know how. For those reasons it frightens the heck out of them.
“What we did here in Kaslo is build the capacity to construct it, but also the capacity to maintain and operate it. And that’s what needs to be done at a regional level.”
Costs for completing the last mile are also not as big an issue as they first appear, says Ryan. The fibre costs KiN far less than a dollar a metre. He says it costs about $700 to (at worst case) $4,000 to connect an individual home to their high-speed network. With ISPs charging most customers $50-100/month, and higher levels of government throwing millions of dollar at improving rural networks, he says the service can reasonably expect to cover its costs in a few years.
And with thousands of homes and businesses to link up to the network, any locally run ISP would have a steady monthly income base to run its operations, he says.
Building the human capacity is not an overwhelming task either, he says. He figures a project this size would need two to three crews stationed along the route, installing cable and maintaining the existing line.
“It’s ditch digging,” he says. “Just like you have guys driving the grader to clean the snow off in winter. I’m sure there are a lot of people in the valley with diggers.”
“We’re trying to convince regional government, CBBC, the Basin Trust and small municipalities that this is not rocket science, it’s approachable, and do-able, and all the technology behind it is proven, tested and delivers the goods,” he says. “And you need to have in your community the people who are there to maintain it.”
The other benefit of keeping local control is the money would stay in the Valley.
“It means all that money that gets raked off now, instead of being handed to shareholders at a for-profit corporation at the other end of the country, goes to people’s pockets as wages in our communities.”
Ryan says Kaslo infoNet would be more than willing to share their expertise and experience with Slocan leaders struggling with finding a solution. So far, no one’s reached out to discuss the issue with them.
John Boivin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Valley Voice